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Married by love, if not law: Astoria couple prepares to wed despite legal barriers

It’s still a few days before Brendan Fay can call Tom Moulton his husband, but the Astoria couple already boasts a ritual so predictable it could rival any couple’s most time-honored tradition.

This is the way they spend every Sunday evening, seated side-by-side in the pews of St. John’s in the Village, the Manhattan church where they met seven years ago after Fay stumbled in late to service — landing in the seat next to Moulton.

But now they stand at the edge of a new chapter in a pair of lives that intertwined long ago. As they sat in church on a recent Sunday night — just as they have nearly every Sunday night for the last seven years — the leaflet-lined table by the door carried a pile of square papers, where the drawing of two tuxedo-clad men framed by ribbons and wedding bells only told the tip of their tale.

“An Invitation from Brendan Fay & Tom Moulton to their Wedding on May 24th and Dignity Blessing on May 25th,” it read.

Brendan Fay and Tom Moulton are getting married.

The couple will exchange vows at 1:30 p.m. before hundreds of family, friends and supporters at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn six years after Fay finally accepted the marriage proposal Tom offered only a month after they met.

“This is one of the most significant and spiritual moments in our life,” said Fay, an Irishman with an unsinkable spirit. “It’s like the sealing of our commitment to one another and sharing that with our family and friends.”

The ceremony will be a union of heart and spirit, but on paper it will not mean a thing. Two men, after all, can’t get married. But that isn’t stopping them.

Fay, 45, is a celebrity of sorts in Queens, where four years ago he created the city’s first inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade welcoming all marchers regardless of sexual orientation.

Moulton, 45, is more shy of the spotlight but no less a humanitarian, working as a pediatric oncologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The couple shares a home in Astoria that they purchased together three years ago.

Fay did not know Moulton was a doctor when he sat beside him on Jan. 28, 1996 at the Sunday evening mass of DignityNY, a Catholic gay worship group. He didn’t really know anything about him.

But after the service ended that night, Fay asked Moulton to help him out with the Lavender & Green Dinner he was organizing.

“Something came over me, just this impulse to somehow get this guy’s telephone number,” Fay said, barely finishing his sentence before Moulton interjected, “Which isn’t something he normally does.

“He was inspired,” Moulton continued, flippant but truthful.

“This was the first time I had ever done it,” Fay confirmed.

Fay called the next day, and he arrived uncharacteristically early for their first date so he could choose the smallest table in the rear of the restaurant.

Although Moulton asked Fay to marry him a month later, Fay dithered for more than a year before accepting. Moulton kept telling him “it’s inevitable ” to which Fay would respond “the last time I checked, a marriage required two consenting adults. You’re halfway there.”

But even after they secured each other’s consent, getting the state to sign off on a wedding certificate was not exactly in the cards.

They registered as domestic partners with the city three years ago, but that only offered them the most basic of rights, like hospital visitation and the ability to secure adjoining plots in a city cemetery.

Today, bills on the table in both houses of the state Legislature call for the legalization of gay marriage, but the advocates fighting for their passage anticipate at least five years will go by before enough votes are secured to push the measure into law.

“The rights are an important issue,” Fay said as they sat side by side in the pews once Sunday night services had ended.

Moulton scolded Fay for dragging politics into a conversation about love, but pretty soon Moulton had launched into a diatribe about U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft eating away at immigrants’ rights — because Fay, after all, emigrated from Ireland.

If they could get married, Moulton’s status as a citizen would secure Fay’s place in the country, which is among 1,049 rights the federal government confers to married straight couples but denies their same-sex counterparts.

Indeed, it’s difficult to avoid politics entirely when the subject at hand is two men — or two women — marrying each other.

“Our love is so important to us that Tom has said he will move if he has to,” Fay said, his hand folded into his partner’s. “That’s why we’re working to change the legislation.”

But legal sanction is pretty much all that will be missing from the couple’s May marriage at which a Catholic priest will officiate over a ceremony that melds Catholic and Celtic traditions.

Eddie DeBonis — a friend from church who married his own partner late last year — even gave Fay a copy of the book he considered indispensable for his own preparations, a guide by Martha Stewart.

“I insisted he dance at home in his new shoes so they don’t hurt during the wedding,” DeBonis said, citing one of Martha’s recommendations.

But as the couple rushed to the car after church was over, Fay made a confession: Martha Stewart’s marriage tome was collecting dust.

Perhaps that’s one tradition he just can’t embrace.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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